At Homecoming, More Than Penn State Lives Here

Ok, so I couldn’t resist the urge to have a little good-natured fun with the University’s newly-unveiled marketing campaign:

Gary Cattell, the Willard Preacher, Knows Where Penn State Lives

I’ve been thinking that I needed to add a post about this past Saturday, but to be honest, it’s the Tuesday morning after, and I’m still processing it. Suffice to say, things happened in Happy Valley this weekend that embodied the essence of “the Old State Spirit”. This will be a brief and tangential meditation on one of the more remarkable Homecoming weekends in memory, so I reserve the right to come back and comment further if I ever manage to wrap my brain around it.

I was struck by some comments from Onward State’s Casey Dexter, who, in a piece published this morning, bravely copped to bolting the Beav early and missing the epic conclusion of our instant classic against Michigan. Having left the stadium halfway through the fourth quarter, Casey and her friends were not in the stands for Allen Robinson’s gravity-defying catch, the heart-stopping four overtimes or the pandemonium after

Instead, I stood in line at Yogurt Express waiting for a very average-tasting smoothie.

In my defense, watching the rest of the game in that little shop was actually really cool. A small group had gathered inside to huddle around the TV, and people from the other local shops kept popping their heads in to see the final moments. It was heartwarming to see that everyone, whether they were at the game or not, was in the Penn State spirit. Even Michigan fans (who dared not come inside) watched the end of the game from outside the window. It was nothing compared to the electric shock of pride and awe I imagine was felt in the stands, but it really exemplified the close-knit downtown community that is Penn State.

I guess with this confessional I’m trying to make two points. First and foremost, I’m an idiot and will probably always regret leaving this game early, but secondly, the Penn State spirit was (and is) palpable across campus, and probably across the country, regardless of whether you’re screaming in the stands or at your TV.

Yes, they missed out , but their consolation prize was a chance to share in a smaller, more intimate moment that was, nevertheless, just as unique and as revealing of the character and spirit that make this Valley special.

It is very easy for Penn State students to forget that the Nittany Valley is a broader community—of place, culture, time and spirit—that extends  beyond the borders of campus, and that their years in school are the beginning, not the totality, of the journey. Likewise, it is all too common for residents of State College and alumni of Penn State to forget that the youthful energy of the student body has always been what sustains and gives life to this place. The symbiotic relationship of Town and Gown—and the reality that there is no line where one ends and the other begins—defines us.

It is very appropriate that this is a story about Homecoming, the time when the Penn State community comes together to celebrate its shared identity. When I look back on this weekend as time passes, I’ll think not only of white-clad students crowding together behind the south endzone goalposts, desperately hoping for a missed field goal attempt that reason and probability left them no right to expect, but also of students and shopkeeps, standing together around the Yogurt Express TV set, sharing that same tension, also daring to hope. Both tell the story of who “We Are.”